Saint Francis, in the thirteenth century, is credited with creating the first living nativity, a reenactment of the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem stable. I like to think of Saint Francis creating this second manger in a cave with hay and animals so that we would know the humbleness of the first manger and the Child who enters into the ordinary, common, and simple world of humanity.
We will use the life of Saint Francis as a lens to explore the beginnings and variety of nativity and Advent traditions and the centrality of the Incarnation, not only for Saint Francis, but also for people today looking for signs of God’s love. We will look at the ordinary ways and common traditions used to prepare for the birth of the Christ child.
As our journey to Christmas begins, I invite you to pray this prayer. Feel free to add your own thoughts:
Holy One, into such a world as ours and such a time as this, you chose to enter. Again and again, you visit us in the darkest times of life. Again and again, you surprise us in the midst of hectic schedules, tense cities, world crises, and worried lives. Loving God, help us keep alert in this Advent season. Help us to slow down for prayer, to stand up for justice, to breathe deeply your love each day. Open us and make us ready for you. Amen.
You may participate in this eCourse or participate by reading the book edition individually, with your family, or with a group that gathers weekly to discuss it and pray together.
Each week, there is a reading for every weekday of Advent, something to ponder and reflect upon, and a time of prayer. The sixth day of the week suggests a weekend activity. I encourage you to make notes as you reflect and refer to them if you gather for a discussion with others on each of the four Sundays of Advent. Each Sunday includes a reading, prayers, and a ritual for lighting Advent candles on an Advent wreath. There is a fifth week of meditations with a focus on New Year’s Day and Epiphany.
There is also a small-group guide (also available in eCourse format) at the end of the book that gives fuller instructions for a weekly mini retreat, a bit longer time for a group to share and participate in a suggested group activity. If you are part of a group, look at the small-group guide to see the order of the meeting and the activities suggested.
If possible, make an Advent wreath for you and your home. Include any family or friends who might be joining you in the evenings (or other designated time) for the ritual of prayer and candle lighting. An Advent wreath can be any circular base that holds four candles, preferably purple or blue. Some stores sell an Advent candle set that includes three purple or blue candles and a pink candle, which is traditionally lit on the third Sunday of Advent. Some traditions also include a white candle in the center to represent the Christ child, which is lit on Christmas Eve or Day.
Clay, wood, or other materials provide creative wreath-making options. Styrofoam (while not so earth friendly) purchased at craft stores works well for families with small children who want to help by adding pine branches to cover the wreath base. Many religious stores or online sites sell Advent wreathes of brass or pottery that you may use every year. Find or make a wreath that works for you and keep it on the table where you dine or in another prominent place for the Advent and Christmas season.
Each day, light a candle as you enter the time of prayer.
God’s blessings as you begin your Advent journey.